Arafat, Not Sharon Has Benefited from Violence, Analysts Say
July 7, 2008
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has soared among their respective peoples during the recent Israeli incursion into PA-controlled cities.
But Israeli analysts said on Friday that it is Arafat -- not Sharon -- who stands to benefit from the violence.
"Clearly Arafat has gained tremendously from the incursions... and the suicide bombings," said historian and independent analyst Micah Halpern on Friday.
"From the Israeli angle, [Sharon] had almost unanimous support for the incursions and the breakdown of the terrorist network... [But] Sharon's popularity actually peaked and fell," Halpern said, when some of the public began to question the operation's limits.
"Violence works well for Arafat. He's going to come out looking stronger than any other Arab leader [because he] stared down the mighty Israeli army," Halpern said. Nevertheless, Israel succeeded in many ways in its incursion, he added.
Man of Peace
President Bush, who repeatedly has said that he is disappointed with Arafat's performance in fighting terrorism, called Sharon a "man of peace" on Thursday.
Washington also recently announced that it would consider closing the offices of Arafat's PLO organization in Washington if Arafat did not fight terrorism.
Bush has refrained from inviting Arafat to the White House, but by contrast, Sharon has been a guest at the White House four times since taking office.
"I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace," Bush said in a joint press conference with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who just returned from an 11-day trip to the region.
"I'm confident he wants Israel to be able to exist at peace with its neighbor," Bush said. "He has embraced the notion of two states living side by side."
"To compare Sharon to Arafat is among the crimes committed by the media," said Uri Dan, a writer and personal friend of Sharon's.
It's a crime "to compare a responsible, democratically elected leader to the chief of a mafia," Dan said. Comparing Sharon to Arafat, he said, "is like comparing Bush to [Saudi militant Osama] bin Laden."
According to Dan, Sharon helped the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin to make peace with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the 1980's. His presence was so vital, Dan said, that when Sadat got off the airplane on his historic visit to Israel he asked, "Is General Sharon here?"
Dan said that he also accompanied Sharon, who was then agriculture minister, to Egypt in 1981 when Sadat asked Sharon to help his country with the development of its agriculture.
Retired Air Force Col. Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto said that the idea that both Sharon and Arafat were benefiting from the violence was merely a "media conclusion." He said he believed Sharon was more eager to become known as a peacemaker than a warrior at this stage in his life.
"Arafat wants to be the new redeemer of Arabia," Tsiddon-Chatto said. "If Arafat didn't accept Camp David, then he wanted war," he said.
Arafat turned down an Israeli offer of nearly all the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with limited rule over Jerusalem at a U.S.-sponsored summit at Camp David in the summer of 2000.
Critics have argued that the Israeli offer was not as good as it was touted to be but former President Bill Clinton sided with Israel in saying that Arafat had rejected the best offer he would ever get.
On the contrary, Tsiddon-Chatto said Sharon already has an image as a man of war and would probably like to "leave this world with an image of a peacemaker."
"Sharon has had his victories in war. Like any other general he has already proved his mettle in war." He is much more likely to want to prove his capability to achieve peace, he added.
Sharon and Arafat, both in their early 70's, are long-time foes who faced off previously in Beirut in 1982.
Sharon, who was Israel's defense minister at the time, was in charge of the Israeli operation to rout the PLO and its chairman Arafat from Lebanon, where the terrorist organization had become entrenched as a base to launch international and cross border attacks.
Brig.-Gen. Shlomo Brom, senior researcher at the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv said that there is "some grain of truth" to positive influence that the violence has had on Sharon's popularity but in the case of Arafat it is "quite accurate."
"Arafat wants to escalate the situation," Brom said.
"Palestinian violence got Sharon elected," he said. But during the month of March when there were numerous deadly terror attacks, "there was a meaningful drop of the level of support of Sharon."
Prof. Efraim Inbar of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies said there is Palestinian support for violence and Israeli support for the counter-terrorism operation, nevertheless, it is the Palestinian terrorism that sparks the response.
"There is a lot of support among the Palestinians to continue the violence and there is a lot of support among Israelis to continue the counter-terrorism operation," Inbar said.
"If there would be no terrorist attacks, there would be an end to the counter-terrorism operation. Israelis would see an end to the terror attacks as a victory for Sharon. The Palestinians would see it the same. It shows who is supporting [the violence]," Inbar added.